“What You Could Improve” Isn’t The Answer

In fact, suggestions on what to improve aren’t an appropriate answer when it’s the question.

Sometimes on discussion forums I see a practitioner asking questions like:

  • Who should the learner be?
  • What target should I assign?
  • Which, in turn, implies “Which lean tools should I use?”

I’ll break down the questions in another post. Right now, I want to discuss the common replies.

Replies come from well meaning people who leap to “You could apply SMED” or “It looks like you are trying to put in a pull system.”

In other words “Here are some improvements you could make.” without any grasp of:

  • The actual challenge being faced by the organization.
  • The current process operating patterns that are limiting moving to the next level.

So, the advice has no grounding in what must be done, only what could be done.

If I were to reframe the conversation to a different kind of problem, those replies wouldn’t make any sense at all:

“I am looking for help fixing my 2010 Toyota Tacoma*.”

  • “You could change the sparkplugs.”
  • “How about checking tire inflation?”
  • “This fuel additive works great.”
  • “What kind of fuel mileage are you getting?”

The first question should be “Tell me what about your 2010 Tacoma is currently unacceptable to you?”

“It’s stuck on a trail with a broken axle.” probably requires a different response than “It’s running rough in the morning.”

“Lean” is no different. What are you trying to accomplish here? is a question we don’t ever seem to ask. Why? Do we really think we have a pat set of answers that apply to any situation, or to any situation that seems similar to one we have encountered in the past?

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*My Toyota truck (it predates the Tacoma) is a 1995 that has been driven the distance to the Moon, and is now on its way back.

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